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Last Updated: 05/12/2005
Shame is for Sissies
Peter Krupa

A curious individual in the Washington, D.C., lobbying scene was posthumously thrust into the news spotlight this month by his obituary in the Washington Post.


Humanitarian crusader? Conflict mediator? Unsung hero in a sea of ugliness?


Far from it.


His name was Edward von Kloberg III and his motto was shame is for sissies. A man who practiced what he preached, von Kloberg contracted out his elite PR services to the baddest of the bad, the most despicable tyrants and dictators in the world among them, Saddam Hussein, Samuel K. Doe, Nicolae Ceausescu, and the military regime in Burma.


The obituary goes on to detail a flamboyant lifestyle heaving with social engagements, soirées, and dinner parties, along with an eccentric personal fashion that included capes, steamer trunks, and the wearing of foreign medals on his tuxedo. At the suggestion of a journalist, he added von to his name because it sounded distinguished. He was a champion schmoozer that everyone liked often despite themselves. Fittingly, perhaps, he committed suicide by jumping off the wall of a castle in Rome.


It would be easy to morally lambaste a man who spent most of his career sympathizing with third-world murderers and war criminals, but the more interesting part of the obituary and some of the commentary on various websites is von Kloberg s claim that he was actually a peacemaker and worked to mediate conflict.


For instance, in an interview with the Post several months ago he said he convinced Iraqi ambassador Nizar Hamdoon to meet Jews for the first time at one of his intimate dinner parties.


The Post obit also states that, He cited the case of Ceausescu, for whom he won U.S. trade concessions. In return, he said, the dictator permitted the printing of Bibles for the first time in decades and, for a stiff price, allowed Soviet Jews to travel through Romania on their way to Israel.


And Washington journalist Murray Waas, who apparently knew von Kloberg quite well, writes on his weblog about the time von Kloberg actually defrauded Hussein of thousands of dollars:


When he represented Saddam Hussein, according to Foreign Agents Registration records von Kloberg himself filed with the Department of Justice, he billed the since-deposed Iraqi dictator for several op-eds in the New York Times and other newspapers that advocated a U.S. tilt towards Iraq in its longstanding conflict with the ayatollahs of Iran. Von Kloberg took credit for the op-eds, and asked to be, and was, compensated for each and every one by Saddam. The authors of the op-eds, all of them (including a then-Congressman), told me that they had never heard of Von Kloberg. One was more amused than angry, telling me: I guess everyone has to find a way to make a living.


Of course, that s a small consolation for the Kurds who were gassed to death by Hussein, especially since von Kloberg was actually the one entrusted with the task of convincing the U.S. government that the atrocity was justified.


More likely than his own sympathetic rendition of events, von Kloberg was probably nothing more than a high-class huckster up to the very end, able to take even his own morally dubious career and give it a gentle sheen of occasional good works.


In the Post obit, he compared his job to that of a public defender someone has to stick up for the criminals, he would say. He said there had been greater challenges and rewards in his career than had he crusaded for a good cause, said the Post.


One wonders if he is still saying that.

Peter Krupa is the editor of the Peace & Conflict Monitor